Speech at the Baltic Sea Labor Forum Round Table, 1.11.2013, Helsinki


I am delighted to attend the Baltic Sea Labour Forum Round Table, and I would like to thank the organizers for the possibility to address this Conference.  

I am pleased that the BSLF Roundtable takes place in Helsinki during the Finnish Presidency of the Council of the Baltic Sea States.  I very much appreciate the joint efforts by many stakeholders in the past years in promoting transnational social dialogue and labour market policies in the Baltic Sea Region.  The excellent work carried out under the Baltic Sea Labour Network project has led to the establishment of the Baltic Sea Labour Forum.  These issues have been on the agenda for some time, but now the regional dialogue in this field has reached a permanent status under the auspices of the Baltic Sea Labour Forum. 

Finland started its Chairmanship in the Council of the Baltic Sea States in July.  Our Presidency priorities are based on the achievements of the previous Presidencies and on the five long term priority areas of the CBSS.  In order to further enhance regional cooperation, we are working on the basis of three guiding principles: coherence, cooperation and continuity. 

Our goal is a pragmatic and result-oriented cooperation based on coherence. The aim is to enhance coherence among the different actors in the Baltic Sea Region and promote synergies between the regional councils, the Northern Dimension and the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region.  We can also strengthen the cooperation and coordination between the sub-regional organizations, intergovernmental networks and strategic partners of the CBSS, including the Baltic Labour Forum.

Finland is also chairing the Barents Euro-Arctic Council for the next two years.  We took over the Presidency just earlier this week at the Barents Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Troms.   The double Presidency gives us a good opportunity to improve the synergies between the regional actors in Northern Europe.  

The CBSS is the most important intergovernmental organization in the Baltic Sea Region.  Moreover, it is the only regional structure that gathers the heads of Governments together to discuss issues of regional importance. The CBSS Summit is organized every two years, alternating with the CBSS Foreign Ministers meeting. The last Foreign Ministers Meeting was held in Kaliningrad last June during the Russian Presidency.   Finland will host the CBSS Summit in the beginning of June next year in Turku.  Parallel to the Summit, the Annual Forum of the EU Strategy for Baltic Sea Region, the Baltic Development Forum, as well as the Baltic Sea NGO Forum will be also take place there.  We expect around 1000 participants to attend the various events during the Baltic Sea Days in Turku.   

The Finnish CBSS Presidency is carried out under the theme Clean, Safe and Smart Baltic Sea.  Based on the five long-term priorities of the CBSS we have selected three priority areas: maritime policy, civil security and people-to-people cooperation. 

Regarding the maritime issues special attention is paid to clean shipping, with focus on alternative fuels.   In this connection we are coordinating efforts to create ”Green Technology and Alternative Fuels Platform for Shipping”. Working closely with HELCOM and other partners the aim is to draw up a roadmap on how to promote development and use of clean and green technology and alternative fuels in the region.  

In civil security we attach particular emphasis on nuclear and radiation safety, cooperation of the border control authorities and management of maritime accidents. One example of the cooperation in this field is a project conducted by the Finnish Border Guard. The project identifies the emergency preparedness measures implemented by the Baltic Sea States with the aim to share best practices in developing operating models and cooperation practices in maritime rescue.  

People-to-people contacts and a well-functioning civil society are important elements in building a stable and secure society, and essential parts of the regional cooperation.   Also youth affairs continue to be an important aspect of cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region.  The CBSS attaches great importance to the youth cooperation.  In recent years youth cooperation in the CBSS format has taken many shapes and forms.   Although the CBSS Expert Group of Youth Affairs has been dissolved, Finland is committed to maintain the youth issues on the CBSS agenda and we are willing to find new ways to address these issues.  We support practical activities for youth and more active involvement of youth itself in the discussions.   

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This Round Table has an important role in promoting the issues related to youth and mobility of labour. The two focus areas, youth unemployment and mobility of labour, are of utmost importance and crucial for the economic and social development of the Baltic Sea Region.  Let me use this opportunity to have a broader look at the future of the Baltic Sea region and European Union from a social perspective.

It is clear that the internal market of the EU and the mobility of the labour enhance the opportunities for economic growth in the future. In order to have a welfare society that would be at the same time solid and flexible, economic growth is necessary, not least because of the challenge posed by demographic change. 

The Baltic Sea region has economic potential which we have not yet fully taken advantage of. When planning the ways to find new methods we have to take international competition and more globalized markets into account. These can bring entirely new challenges we have to face. We should address these challenges through close cooperation and agreementsbetween all the social partners.

In the future we need more Social Europe where the rights of the workers and the welfare of the citizens should be a priority of all EU-institutions. This is the way to build an equal, sustainable and prosperous Europe.  From the Nordic perspective, we cannot allow an unbalanced stress on unregulated economic competition in the single market to introduce harmful and socially unsustainable practices to the labour markets.

Companies which respect core labour standards should not be put in an unfavourable position in the market. On the contrary, socially responsible behaviour should be rewarded. Companies using questionable methods in seeking profits should not be allowed to compete unfairly with those employers who respect labour standards.  This is not sustainable either politically or socially.

We should encourage and support business to thrive ethically and under fair rules. This is in many ways one of the key of the Nordic countries´ success in the numerous international rankings where countries are judged on various social, economic and ecological criteria, including competitivess.

Since the end of the Second World War, during a relatively long period of time the Nordic labour market has brought quite good results – also when it comes to an equitable distribution of wealth and income. Unfortunately this trend has been reversed during the last twenty years with growing inequalities, higher poverty rates and increasing marginalization.

Full respect for labour rights in Europe is one way to counter this negative trend. The Financial crisis has clearly shown a need to have more regulation in the globalized market. Regulation is also needed to guarantee that the mechanisms in the labour market are functioning well. A labour market based on rules agreed between the social partners in Europe should be recognized as a strong impetus for enhancing growth and productivity. This is the case in the Baltic Sea region as well.

In Finland we have had a clear principle in our labour markets which should be the universal norm in other European countries as well: The same standards, working conditions and wages should be given to all employees in the same job in the same country regardless of their nationality or country of origin. This principle should be enforced at the state level and the instruments necessary to guarantee equal conditions and right for everyone should be adequately resourced.  

I have full confidence in the perspectives for cooperation in the Baltic Sea region. We have a lot in common, but we have not yet fully used our potential. We are in some respect different, but that should only make us more attractive to each other. We have much in common today and our future is in our hands.

I welcome the creation of the permanent Baltic Sea Labour Forum – an important tripartite platform and a network for cooperation between employers, trade union organizations, governmental and parliamentary institutions.  I remind you that supporting the regional social tripartite dialogue is also mentioned as one of the priorities in our CBSS Presidency Program, under the people-to-people cooperation. 

The international CBSS Secretariat was one of the partners who attended the Hamburg meeting in November 2011 where the Baltic Sea Labour Forum was established.  The CBSS has also further supported the work of the Forum, for example by funding its Working Group on Mobility of Labour’s project ”Cross-Border Information Management in the Baltic Sea Region” from the Project Support Facility, a new financial instrument of the CBSS, which was launched earlier this year.  

I wish all the possible success for CBSS in its work. I am confident that the large amount of strength, wisdom, experience and courage we have here from different backgrounds and countries shall also bring important results in the future.